What's hot: Offshore fishing. Benthic and pelagic fish have cooperated the past few weeks. Red grouper (still legal to keep as long as they meet the 20-inch limit) have been feeding heavily in their usual summertime depths of 80 to 90 feet over flat, Swiss-cheese bottom. Numerous short grouper provide nearly nonstop action with the larger fish mixed in. Larger red grouper tend to inhabit the transitional area, where the bottom turns abruptly from sand to hard rock. This usually has a washed-out area slightly deeper than the adjacent rock. Paying close attention to the sonar and marking the edge and anchoring over it will usually result in larger fish. Gag grouper (closed until Sept. 16) have been mixed in with the reds in some spots and have provided exciting catch-photo-release action. White grunts, triggerfish, porgies and some mangrove snapper have fallen victim to the two-hook "chicken rig" with the 3-ounce sinker underneath. It has been necessary to use all types of bait, including frozen squid and sardines, live pinfish, sardines, squirrelfish and hardtails caught with sabiki rigs.
Other options: Spanish mackerel have been scarce offshore, with only scattered fish being caught using live bait or trolling spoons. A welcome surprise has been their larger cousins, kingfish. Using stinger-rigged flatlines with live sardines or hardtails caught while bottom fishing or using a frozen sardine, which will fall partially in the water column and remain suspended by the current, we have encountered kingfish from 10 pounds to the high 20s.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach and can be reached at [email protected], Luckytoocharters.com or (727) 397-8815.